YG, "Stay Dangerous" (Def Jam)

For the last five years, the 28-year-old Compton rapper YG has been distilling vintage-era Los Angeles gangster rap into cold steel. His two previous albums — "My Krazy Life," from 2014, and the 2016 follow-up, "Still Brazy" — were great, or better than great, because YG sticks to first principles: bone-dry rhymes and pointed, spare production. He's an unsentimental storyteller, and also an intuitive melodist. His hooks are consistently crisp and sticky.

His third album, "Stay Dangerous" marks a reunion for YG with the producer DJ Mustard, whose buoyant post-hyphy productions made his earliest and sometimes most menacing songs ("My ______," "Who Do You Love?") still sound sprightly. Mustard produced around half of this new album, and his chemistry with YG is intact, and necessary. The peak is "Too Brazy," which both pulses and relaxes at the same time. "Too Cocky" features the signature Mustard bell tones, which arrive in loose formation, knocking each other out like carefully fired pinballs. "Big Bank" is a tiptoeing dance, and "10 Times" is rowdy fun.

On that song, and elsewhere on this album, YG's rapping is less staccato than it's previously been, and at times he slips into a tone that's part whine, part wheeze. Perhaps that's because there is a great deal of anguish and disruption in his orbit. On "666" he thrills at being irresponsible — fast sex, fast cars, fast drugs, the usual — even as he assesses the damages.

YG is astute about how fame disorients your life. He closes this album with a disarmingly somber number, "Bomptown Finest," an apologia and an apology for the ways in which his inner circle has been subjected to intense pressure. It's a welcome slowing down after all that reckless speed.



Ben Vaughn, "Imitation Wood Grain and Other Folk Songs" (Many Moods Records)

As the title suggests, this album is something a little different for Ben Vaughn. Over his long career, the California-based music maven from South Jersey has displayed an omnivorous taste for vintage rock and pop as well as roots styles, from his own albums to his production work and his instrumental soundtracks for TV's "That '70s Show" and "Third Rock From the Sun." He's never really played the strumming troubadour, but here it's just him, his acoustic guitar and his voice (and dig that mouth harp).

These aren't so much folk songs as Ben Vaughn songs. His wry humor surfaces in numbers such as "Look What the Cat Dragged In," and "Apropos of Nothing," while "Echo Chamber Blues" is a fun vocal exercise. The bleak themes of "People It's Bad" and "Rock Bottom" jar a bit with the bright arrangements, giving them an ironic cast. But the stripped-down, intimate approach does enhance the best songs here, which deal with affairs of the heart, from the upbeat "When Love Returns" to the wistful "Imitation Wood Grain" and the somber "Somebody Don't Love Somebody."

Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer

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